We Make Our Own Beaches
The woman in the apartment opposite mine wears a kimono. It’s not pretty. She’s about my size; I don’t own a kimono. The flying geese on her chest gape. It doesn’t stop her misting her orchids. Or, forgetting to close the blind when she kisses her husband.
I say husband, though she may not be married. Whoever he is, her partner’s a nurse who works away. I won’t see that kimono for weeks, then I’ll see it most days. Once, I saw the guy buying bleach at the store. He doesn’t look like someone who’d kiss like that. Someone who would bury into someone double his size and let himself look lost.
I don’t spy, but it’s difficult not to see things. It’s been worse all July. It’s scorching, and I miss the eggs. Last summer, kids smashed eggs on the footpath and poked the gunk with a stick. They no longer do that, try to see what fries. Everyone stays indoors.
The streets are deserted and guys in orange jackets fix the roads. They drill and freeze, looking up. Two teenagers stick their feet out of a fourth-floor apartment, pearly polish drying on their toes. The workmen cheer. The girl’s laughter somehow chipping through the sound of their drills, the way some people can pick out birdsong in a city.
The woman moves her orchid an hour later. I don’t see the kimono. Last week, her husband lay on her lap and she stroked his head like a cat before he left. Ever since, she’s been wearing a fluffy bathrobe.
It’s sunny and she takes it off to stick her legs out of her window. I can’t tell if she’s wearing a bikini or underwear, but her legs are bare. They look silvery, lonely as manatees, floating out there. It takes a while for the workmen notice and shout, ‘Put it away.’
The woman remains. Stretching her legs further out, she starts swimming. Kid’s delivering groceries yell to the sky. That lady is fat. That lady’s behind’s been locked in a cupboard since 1999. The woman kicks, doggy paddling high above the concrete. I close the blinds.
In the morning, she’s sunbathing again, sun-kissed from the waist down. I drag my desk to the window. It might be just me, but everyone’s wearing blue. The street is dotted with people scurrying to the chemist’s in paper masks. They’re all wearing striped blue shirts like a bit of the ocean strapped to their person.
I swing my legs over the ledge and pull them inside.
When I was seventeen, I worshipped the beach with my BFF, Frieda. We wriggled off our clothes, bikini’s underneath. It was the same beach every weekend, but it was different each time. We were different. I had a thing about pretending to be someone else there. If anyone spoke to us, we had to use fake names. Hilary, Catherine, Mary, whoever we felt like. Sometimes no one spoke to us, but we kept it going. Our voices became softer, more assertive, or shy, like a whole other life unfolding in our mouths. I didn’t even think about it.
I watch the woman in the apartment wiggle her toes and feel the sand she imagines between. I arrange sunscreen, an inflatable flamingo and sunglasses on the desk and listen to seagull sounds, but I don’t stick my whole legs out for days. I need a swig of whiskey to really start kicking.
It feels fantastic, swimming without water. Just me and the woman opposite not drowning. Me, her, maybe the whole world, finding our own beaches in the air. I can only see hers from my window. I swirl and wave, but she doesn’t wave back. She drifts on her ocean, stone still, a lifeguard pulling her ashore. She rolls onto her stomach and I see him not squirt a bottle of lotion, slather an oily heart into her calves.
Angela Readman’s stories have won The Costa Short Story Award, The Mslexia Competition, and The Anton Chekhov Prize for Short Fiction. Her collection, Don’t Try this at Home won The Rubery Book Award. Her novel Something like Breathing was published by And Other Stories in 2019. She also writes poetry, her collection The Book of Tides is published by Nine Arches.
More by Angela Readman Improbable Cures for Insomnia
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